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Roadside & grounds maintenance: Baton Rouge battles its resilient greenery; With approximately 4000 acres under management and fixed assets of manpower and equipment, mowers are out 10 hours per day, 6 to 7 days a week, and are still challenged to keep the roadsides properly mowed.

As the state capital of Louisiana and the home of Louisiana State University (LSU), Baton Rouge is a flagship city that leads in many ways. That responsibility extends to landscaping along local roadsides.

Thus, the goal of Billy Thompson, vegetation control manager for the City of Baton Rouge/Parish of East Baton Rouge Department of Public Works (DPW), is to maintain roadsides to as "near park-like conditions as possible." However, with vast acreage under management stretching to the far corners of the parish (county) it is extremely challenging to keep all the roadsides looking their best.

"Our goal is to have 6- to 12-inch Bermuda grass, ideally that is free of weeds," says Thompson. "Our biggest challenge is to maintain those desired grass heights."

Deep in the Mississippi River Delta, the city's warm, moist climate is ideal for growing grasses and other types of vegetation. The conditions are such that constant vigilance is required just to keep roadside grasses in control during peak growing months.

"We are constantly striving to keep top-line appearance, while working toward a long-term solution of weedfree native grasses," says Thompson.

With approximately 4000 acres under management and fixed assets of manpower and equipment, mowers are out 10 hours per day, 6 to 7 days a week. Yet, they are still challenged to keep the roadsides properly mowed at all times. "If bad weather prevents us from mowing, we can fall even further behind," notes Thompson.

A NEW APPROACH

Several companies proposed solutions to help reduce Thompson's time-intensive need for mechanical mowing and to free up his staff to focus on high-visibility urban areas, optimize their mowing schedule, and address other projects that might otherwise get delayed. One of the companies, Chem Spray South Inc., Gonzales, La., recommended releasing Bermuda grass and slowing down the growth of the other species present without discoloring the current turf.

Chem Spray's Charles Deville worked with LSU vegetation specialist Dr. Dearl Sanders and local herbicide supplier BASF to demonstrate the effectiveness of seedhead suppression using Plateau herbicide in test plots along several Baton Rouge roadsides. Plateau suppresses seedhead growth, eliminates undesirable grass weeds such as Johnson grass, crabgrass, nutsedge, and vaseygrass and releases desirable Bermuda grass without the discoloration or negative impacts sometimes associated with other herbicides.

[ILLUSTRATION OMITTED]

During a 2-year trial from 2000 to 2001, the group carefully documented results and developed a solid vegetation management plan to present to the city's department of public works. Though they were using a new product, new spraying techniques, and new equipment--Chem Spray had invested in state-of-the-art application trucks and certified its staff with the Louisiana Department of Agriculture--expectations for successful results were high.

In test areas, one side of the road would be sprayed, while the other side would only be mowed. This side-by-side comparison clearly demonstrated what the parish could expect from applying Plateau--the results were aesthetically identical in color but show very different grass heights. The Plateau-treated side was shorter and more manageable.

"Once we saw the results of the test plots," says Glynn Cavin, deputy public works director, "we had no hesitation; we knew Plateau could work." Adds Thompson, "The test plots were so impressive, they sealed the deal."

--Horton is a specialist for BASF Professional Vegetarian Management.
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Author:Horton, C. Todd
Publication:Public Works
Date:May 1, 2004
Words:541
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